The situation in Switzerland

There are many people living in Switzerland who come from countries where the prevalence of FGM/C (female genital mutilation/cutting) is high. It is estimated that approximately 14,700 women and girls who have undergone or are at risk of FGM/C live in this country.

Female genital cutting is practised in many countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Since many people living in Switzerland come from countries where the prevalence of FGM/C is high, professionals in this country are also faced with the issue. Female genital cutting is illegal in Switzerland.

Number of people affected

On the basis of estimates from 2013, it is believed that there are approximately 14,700 girls and women living in Switzerland who have undergone or are at risk of FGM/C. This figure is extrapolated from calculations made by relating statistics on the population of foreign residents to the prevalence of FGM/C in their countries of origin.

No more precise information on prevalence is available at this time, because there is no national monitoring system in Switzerland that collects the relevant data.

Who is affected?

In Switzerland, the practice affects particularly (but not exclusively) people from Eritrea, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt. The prevalence of FGM/C in these countries is high: between 74% (Ethiopia) and 98% (Somalia) of all girls and women in these countries have undergone FGM/C.

Women who have migrated from these countries often face multiple difficulties. An uncertain residency status, discrimination at various levels and a precarious financial situation make integration more difficult for them. In addition, many women have been or are victims of sexual violence, whether in their home countries, while fleeing the latter or in their host country. This means that, for them, FGM/C is just one problem among many, if, that is, the women who have undergone FGM/C perceive it as a problem at all.

And the professionals?

Professionals working in a wide variety of fields come into contact with girls and women who have undergone or are at risk of FGM/C. In a survey conducted by UNICEF Switzerland, 40% of the medical professionals surveyed reported having encountered women and girls who had undergone FGM/C, as did 42% and 27% respectively of respondents from the asylum and social care sectors. Gynaecologists (79%) and midwives (66%) were the groups with the highest rates of contact. This comes as no surprise as cases of female genital cutting are often identified in the context of pregnancy or childbirth.
Dealing with the topic of FGM/C has been and still is a great challenge for many professionals, and there is a substantial need for information. This makes it all the more important that the topic of FGM/C should be incorporated into training curricula. Furthermore, it is important that the topic be institutionalized, meaning that procedures and processes relating to FGM/C be defined within institutions. Whenever possible, the topic should be incorporated into existing structures.

What do peer educators do?

Peer educators facilitate communication among the communities involved, advisory services and professionals. They play an important role in prevention work by encouraging the communities to discuss the taboo subject of female genital cutting and critically examine this tradition and its practice.

Involvement of the Swiss Confederation and cantons

Maria Roth Bernasconi’s initiative on female genital mutilation was the catalyst for the Swiss government’s involvement in this issue. The Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) has funded awareness-raising and prevention measures aimed at combating FGM/C through the national program Migration and Health since 2003. The State Secretariat for Migration, SEM, has been involved in these activities since 2010 as well. In 2015, the National Council decided to support a network to combat female genital mutilation for the 2016–2019 period. Activities at the cantonal level vary: the four Cantons of Geneva, Neuchâtel, Vaud and Fribourg are implementing or have implemented strategies or campaigns.

References

Bundesamt für Gesundheit (BAG) (2015). Sexuelle Verstümmelungen an Frauen – Sensibilisierungs- und Präventionsmassnahmen. Bericht des Bunderats in Erfüllung der Motion Bernasconi (05.3235).

UNICEF Schweiz (2013). Weibliche Genitalverstümmelung in der Schweiz. Umfrage 2012 – Risiko, Vorkommen, Handlungsempfehlungen. Zürich: UNICEF Schweiz.

Schweizerisches Kompetenzzentrum für Menschenrechte (SKMR) (2014). Prävention, Versorgung, Schutz und Intervention im Bereich der weiblichen Genitalbeschneidung (FGM/C) in der Schweiz. Empfehlungen und Best Practices. PDF